“A vision of Now” is part of a line from the Go-Go’s song “Vision of Nowness”, featured in their new jukebox musical, Head Over Heels. But it’s also a perfect descriptor for the show itself, playing through June 10th at The Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale. While the show is set during the Elizabethan period, and the dialogue is positively Shakespearean, its themes of gender identity, sexuality and feminism are decidedly modern. Aided by the deliciously catchy 80’s music, Head Over Heels breaks down the barriers between the past and present with hilarious pizazz.
The story requires a great deal of disbelief suspension, but while in some ways it’s completely absurd, it also has depth and timely things to say. Faced with the potential loss of the “beat” that holds their fictional country of Arcadia together, King Basilius, Queen Gynecia, and their two daughters, Pamela and Philoclea, set out on a quest to save the Kingdom. Add in non-binary oracle Pythio’s foreboding warnings and the King’s loyal steward Dametas struggling to heed them, lovesick shepherd Musidorus pining after Philoclea, and Pamela’s cheeky handmaiden, Mopsa – who might become more than just a handmaiden to her as the show goes on – and you’ve got a jaunty tale of mistaken identity, prophesy, true love, and some surprisingly forward-thinking characters for the 1500’s.
Unlikely mashup of contemporary LGBTQ+ issues set to 80’s music in Elizabethan times
As exciting as these characters are, Head Over Heels seems a little unfocused, due in large part to an attempt to force certain Go-Go’s songs into less than fitting places in the show. “We Got The Beat” is less exciting a start to the show than it should be, and seems arbitrarily stuck at the top solely to illustrate that Arcadia “has the beat”. But other songs work remarkably well, especially “Automatic Rainy Day”, Pamela and Mopsa’s fiery tension-filled duet sung with incredible control and passion by Ashlee Spry and Jordan Gagnon, “Heaven is a Place on Earth, tenderly rendered by Kaela Green’s Pythio, and more. Vocally, Spry and Gagnon are the two power-houses of the cast, and are both wonderful actresses as well. John DeMerrell and Suzan M. Jacokes, delightfully over the top as Basilius and Gynecia, walk the tightrope between silly and romantic perfectly in “This Old Feeling” as the King and Queen rekindle their love.
The other love-struck pair, Philoclea and Musidorus, are played with equal parts charm and humor by Katy MacCutcheon and Matt Wallace. In some ways, Philoclea is the “straight woman” of the play, mostly tasked with reacting to everyone else’s antics. But MacCutcheon makes the most out of the role, playing up the fact that she’s smaller than most of her cast-mates to great effect (a hilarious gag early on has MacCutcheon and Christopher Ross-Dybash, understated and sympathetically funny as Dametas, jumping repeatedly to see over other actors’ shoulders), and providing the warmest voice of the group. Wallace is especially good when Musidorus must explore his feminine side, but his portrayal is struck all the way through with a sincerity that makes the campier parts work even better.
The silly characters can be wonderfully genuine
With so much fast-paced, outrageous action on the stage, the simple set by Dan Koch, props by Katy Schoetzow, lighting by Brandy Joe Plambeck and costumes by Cal Schwartz, provide just enough ‘pop’, and Molly Zaleski’s energetic, high-speed choreography fits in with the raucous nature of the show perfectly.
Head Over Heels isn’t a subtle show in any way, but it doesn’t hit us over the head with the way it takes gender and sexuality norms and turns them upside down. It simply presents relationships and people as fact, whether anyone wants to believe they exist or not. And that is one of the things that makes the show such fun to watch; we’re seeing Elizabethan lesbians, non-binary people, cross-dressers, and they’re able to be authentic while also being larger than life. So, you don’t need to come to the Ringwald ready for a piece of political theatre, but while you’re bouncing to the beat, Head Over Heels will gently remind you to love the ‘vision of Now’.
“Head Over Heels” runs May 10th-June 10th at
the Ringwald Theatre, 22742 Woodward Ave, Ferndale MI.
For tickets and more information, please visit theringwald.com.